This “Ethics Advocate” Calls AP’s Outrageous Bias

Apparently the Denver post thinks it’s perfectly fine to publish ridiculous nonsense as long as it was written by the Associated Press.

A couple of days ago, the Post published the AP’s fact-devoid article about a new wind farm. Today the Post follows up by reproducing an absurdly biased article from the AP about proposed ballot changes.

The issue, according to the AP, is this: “Secretary of State Scott Gessler is proposing changes to election rules that would bar clerks from counting ballots with write-in candidates if voters fail to mark the box next to that choice.”

That part is accurate. I just called Rich Coolidge from the SOS’s office to verify, and he added only that the matter is “going through the rule making process.” It’s “a consideration that the secretary’s going to have to make,” he said, and “no decisions have been made at this time.”

My problem arises with another sentence from the AP’s story: “According to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (http://bit.ly/pkZ80r), ethics advocate Jenny Flanagan says a voter’s intent should rule…” (I did not read the Sentinel article as it’s behind a pay wall.)

The problem is describing Jenny Flanagan, in an allegedly straight news article, as merely an “ethics advocate.” Is she a moral philosopher? No. Instead, she heads the Colorado chapter of Common Cause. To describe her as a seemingly neutral “ethics advocate” in a news story is ludicrous. An equally biased but opposite description would be “shrill partisan hack,” but somehow only the former occurred to the AP.

I do not doubt that Flanagan believes she advocates ethics. But so does every source cited by the AP. Can you imagine the AP describing a Tea Party activists as an “ethics advocate?” Or Jon Caldara? Or me? Gessler too thinks he is advocating ethical rules.

Let’s review a couple of background items about “ethics advocate Jenny Flanagan.” In a debate with me earlier this year, she said the First Amendment is “not part of the conversation right now” regarding campaign laws.

Flanagan also attended a rally a couple months ago in Aspen, joining the hard-left ProgressNow to protest the Koch brothers. You can see Flanagan in this photo holding her Common Cause Sign, joining others who want to raise taxes and toss Clarence Thomas off the Supreme Court. (Also check out Kelly Maher’s excellent video about the protest.)

But, hey, apparently “ethics advocate” is good enough for AP work.

Perhaps, rather than just toss up AP articles onto its web page, the Postshould first check to see whether the articles are in fact worth a damn.

For what it’s worth, I actually tentatively agree with Flanagan on this particular issue. If a voter does not check the box for another candidate, and actually writes in some other name, the intent seems to be pretty clearly that the voter wanted to cast a ballot for the write-in. However, I can definitely see the problem of ambiguity. It seems to me that a better solution would be a reformulated ballot that makes that particular mistake impossible.

In general, I advocate computer-assisted paper ballots. The computer assist would make them easier to cast, and the paper would remove the problem of computer glitches and hacking. (I advocate counting up the votes from the paper, rather than from the digital vote.) Surely a well-developed ballot could simply avoid the problem in question.

But just because Flanagan seems to make a good point on this particular issue doesn’t mean the AP should refer to her as some sort of seemingly neutral “ethics advocate.” To do so violates journalistic ethics.